The Pittsburgh Steelers come into the O.co Coliseum on Sunday having not won there—by whatever name the building goes by—since the Oakland Raiders’ first season back there from Los Angeles in 1995.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has had two shots at the Raiders in Oakland and misfired on both of them.
On Oct. 29, 2006, Roethlisberger was picked off four times in a 20-13 loss to the Raiders and on Sept. 23, 2012, despite throwing four touchdown passes, the Steelers dropped a 34-31 decision when Oakland scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
Pittsburgh comes in riding a two-game winning streak, but it is also dealing with the offense still having some of the same problems it has had all season.
The Steelers are banged up on the offensive line and at the running back spot. That, in turn, has led to Big Ben spending much of his time not so much looking for receivers as escape routes.
In six games, Roethlisberger has already been sacked 21 times this season and that rate hasn’t changed despite wins over the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens the last two games. The Jets got Roethlisberger four times in the Steelers’ 19-6 win in New Jersey two Sundays ago and the Ravens registered three sacks in their 19-16 loss in Pittsburgh last Sunday.
So pressure is one element to beating Big Ben. The other is controlling the ground game.
Pittsburgh is rushing for a paltry 74.3 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry, but they’ve gotten a boost the last three games with the return of rookie Le’Veon Bell from a foot injury.
Bell has a team-high 184 yards in just three games, including 93 in last week’s win over Baltimore, when the Steelers totaled a season-high 141 yards on the ground.
The Raiders’ run defense hasn’t been bad, allowing 99 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry this year, but it hasn’t been great, either.
But in Oakland’s two victories—over Jacksonville in Week 2 and San Diego in Week 5—the run defense was outstanding. The Jaguars rushed for just 34 yards in their 19-9 loss at O.co and San Diego mustered only 36 and turned the ball over five times in a 27-17 loss on Oct. 6.
Roethlisberger has thrown five interceptions this season, but none in the Steelers’ two wins, and he is tied for second in the NFL with four lost fumbles.
All that said, he’s still one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, with a pair of Super Bowl victories to his credit and the ninth-highest passer rating in NFL history at 92.6.
Among quarterbacks with at least 1,500 attempts, Roethlisberger’s 92.6 rating ranks seventh in the league since he came into the league in 2004, trailing only Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Tony Romo and Philip Rivers.
So, yeah, not a bad crowd to hang with.
Oakland’s bevy of quarterbacks in that same span has a cumulative rating of 71.3, by comparison.
Big Ben is only 1-3 lifetime against the Raiders, however, and the Raiders have the tools to hang him his third loss in as many tries in Oakland. Control the run game, put the Steelers in unfavorable down-and-distance situations and then unleash a pass rush led by Lamarr Houston’s three sacks against Pittsburgh’s patchwork offensive line. That’s all the Raiders need to do.
And if the Raiders can get Roethlisberger to put it on the ground, so much the better.